Congress’s cromnibus bill threatens D.C. marijuana initiative, Obama likely to sign

Move over, baseball: hating Congress might just be the new national pastime these days (pro: you can do it when it’s raining).

But D.C. voters have had even more reason to lambaste the legislative branch since Saturday when the Senate passed a new $1.1 trillion spending bill with several riders aimed at the District. Included among them is a provision that will prevent D.C. from implementing a ballot initiative that legalizes recreational marijuana if President Obama signs the bill.

Passage of Congress’s so-called “cromnibus”, which will keep the federal government’s lights on for another nine months, averted the threat of a(nother) government shutdown. D.C.’s Initiative 71 was overwhelmingly approved by District voters in November, and would legalize the possession and growth of set amounts of marijuana for recreational use.

Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, made it clear that the Obama administration has long favored District autonomy. As reported by the Washington Times, he also expressed the administration’s view that Congress should leave D.C. voters to their own devices at a Thursday briefing after the cromnibus bill passed the House.

“We do not believe Congress should spend a lot of time interfering with the ability of the citizens of the District of Columbia to make decisions related to how they should govern their community,” Earnest said.

At a town hall event last July, President Obama himself expressed public support for D.C. statehood, saying, “I’m for it.” (Maybe he’s remembering his own college years?)

But it does not appear that those token sentiments will stop Obama from signing cromnibus into law. The bill was shepherded through Congress by several influential leaders of both parties, including a joint effort by Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio).

Advocates for D.C. statehood and marijuana legalization staged a sit-in in Sen. Reid’s office, and protesters swarmed Capitol Hill prior to the Senate’s passage of the bill.

Although D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson has pledged to move forward with Initiative 71’s weed legalization measures, despite Congressional blockage on a terminological technicality, the deeper contradiction between D.C. self-determination and Congressional oversight of the District’s budget remains.

That hypocrisy, as the editorial board of the Washington Post dubbed it, has been around for a long time. Although the District achieved home rule in 1976, it pays federal taxes and its budget remains at the discretion of Congress, in which DC has no voting representative.

Junior Democratic Senator from New Jersey Cory Booker bluntly criticized many of his colleagues for not honoring the idea of taxation without representation and the self-determination of peoples on the floor of the Senate last Friday. “Washington, D.C.—with a population larger than two of our states—sees the constant undermining of this very principle,” he said.

Clearly, some believe it’s high time that Congress atones for its hypocrisy. But until it does, D.C. voters may well see their pipe dream of legalized marijuana go up in smoke.

Photo: Mike Licht via flickr

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